When You Punish People for Asking Questions They Stop Asking

questions are a way of seeing

Questions invite collaboration and shared responsibility. Great leaders understand that it takes new questions to create a new future, and they’re not necessarily the ones asking those new questions; employees are. Unfortunately, it’s more common that leaders seek answers than questions from employees; blocking their development by resisting new ideas.

Innovations is as much about attitude and perspective as it is about process, questions are a key driver for innovation because it opens up a potential new way of seeing. But questions are universally banned in a corporate environment that punishes bravery; the type that challenges the status quo.

Questioning is a key habit all innovators put to use. So, encouraging people to ask provocative questions is key to developing your company’s innovation capability.

It is well known that a large number of organizations hire people for their smarts but never let them make use of it when they start work. Smart leaders don’t let this happen. One trait of great leaders is that of creating the space for new ideas to be born, which means encouraging differing opinions and ideas, questions that challenge the status quo.

Bad leaders shut people’s ideas by ignoring them and punishing curiosity.

Leaders must remember a parenting lesson: all kids are curious and ask questions until they’re satisfied with an answer. As a parent, do you want your kids to stop asking questions and be less curious about the world around them?

The same holds true in the work environment, do you want dumb ignorant people working in your organization?

To manage for innovation is to manage for bravery, which means employees need to be supported and celebrated for challenging the status quo. I assure you your business won’t last long with one person holding all the answers.

Bottom line: A culture of innovation is a culture that values learning, asking questions is the beginning of learning. When you punish people for asking questions you’re shutting down their smarts for good.

Also published on Medium.